Facebook laid down a marker last year in terms of its ambitions in the ad tech sector with the $300m-plus purchase of ad server Atlas from Microsoft, and this year it caused a stir in the market by unveiling the improved offering promising “people centred” approaches to cross-device marketing. As a result, market observers are now billing the social network as a potential rival to Google’s DoubleClick in terms ad tech.
Speaking at ExchangeWire‘s ATS Paris event earlier this week Francois-Xavier Pierrel, Facebook, Atlas, regional manager, Southern Europe, answered question’s from ExchangeWire founder Ciaran O’Kane to further lift the lid on one of the biggest developments in the ad tech space in 2014.
EW: How is cross-device possible with Atlas?
FP: If we take one step back and look at Facebook as a publisher, then cross-device is within the DNA of the company. It’s super-easy, You can use Facebook across multiple devices, but you still have the same account, and identifier, so you can deduplicate. What we have with Atlas is that we can have the same way of thinking, and we are exploiting it all across the media plan using the multiple touch points [i.e. where and what device a user logs into the social network on], instead of having multiple cookies that you have to deduplicate.
EW: How is this possible without cookies?
FP: What we care about is explaining [to advertisers] is who the customer? We don’t rely on cookies, any more. If you want them it’s fine, you can have them in there. We don’t just say we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We are always comparing cookie-based reporting with people-based reporting, and there you can see there are massive differences in the way you understand reach and frequency.
EW: Are you talking about taking data that has been gleaned from outside the Facebook domain, and then leveraging it in the non-Facebook ecosystem?
FP: What we [at Atlas] don’t do is send data back to Facebook, in the same way we don’t tell marketers who people are. Any time we gather information from Facebook, we are serving advertisers. To us, Faceeebook is just another company.
EW: So what you are saying is that Facebook is agnostic, and Atlas just leverages the data you have from Facebook?
FP: Yes, that’s what we do. We decided that there are some area better than us – for instance search – so we don’t aim to relpace Marin, or Kenshoo. They have a great solution and we just integrate with them, and we have the same relationship we have with [Facebok preferred marketing developers] PMDs into the Facebook ecosystem. So we make sure that every [ad] we don’t serve, we can at least track it. So when it comes to attribution we can track it from touchpoint to conversion. So of course we are agnostic, using Atlas is just proving the point.
EW: So you are saying you are an open ecosystem?
FP: This was a huge discussion within Facebook: Should we do an end-to-end solution all on its own? Or should we partner with others in the ecosystem? And if yoou look on our website you can see a list of partners. So everything we cannot do [by ourselves] we are just partnering with others.
We cannot disrupt the ecosystem too much. If we want to step into the agency ecosystem we need to make sure wecan partner with the solution they have already partnered with.
EW: The standard last-click attribution model has been there since the year zero. How are you trying to get your way around that?
FP: Many of our customers are using the last-click attribution model, not because it’s the best one, but it’s the one they know, and it’s the one that makes sense to their business. But when you can start to solve the issues around touchpoints, and bringing data centred on the user, then why would you continue with this? From here you can start refining this, and think about multi-touch attribution. Then you can start awarding credit for creatives, and channel, etc.
We want to integrate our data flow into customers’ ecosystem to help them.
EW: So is this a standard attribution model, or one that is bespoke as per the needs of your advertisers?
FP: We have a flexible model; there is also the traditional one within Atlas. But what we care about is being flexible. This bespoke model is a more challenging one as you need to have a measurement team in every discussion from all sides of the table [both from Atlas and the customer side].
EW: Your attribution model seems to benefit premium publishers at the top of the funnel, whereas the retargetting models of the past seemed to benefit those at the bottom of the purchase funnel. Is this a threat to companies like Criteo, etc?
FP: Our message is simple: Measure your reach and frequency capping and you have nothing to fear from us. We don’t intend to be the judge of everything. We have no specific agenda. That’s why we extended it to offline. When you talk about attribution, you want to be able to cacpture everything.
EW: So how do you take offline data and apply it to online, etc?
FP: It’s super-easy, Facebook has been doing it for quite some time. You take the email address that was captured in-store [via a loyalty card or by some other means], and then you match it to the address registered to Facebook. So then you have a match. If you put that into Atlas then we cacn explain that this was the exposure that drove a conversion.
From here every publisher can get a credit, provided they were involved in the chain. From here you can gain insights like a big publisher with a small place in the media plan was at a middle point of a conversion chain.
EW: There seems to be a trend of big media firms buying attribution companies and then pushing models that seem to favour themselves, and their own model over others. Is there a conflict of interest between giant media companies such as Facebook and Google (that sell ads), and their ad tech arms which push things like attribution?
FP: Good question. You can look at it two ways. Facebook has an entire ecosystem with things like LiveRail, etc, so it’s not just Atlas. And Facebook as a publisher is just one point in the whole ecosystem.
Being agnostic is our general stance to ensure that there’s a distinction between church and state. But Atlas, as part of that ecosystem, has to be in the same office. But we have our own team, our own line of measurement and reporting to remain independent. When we were part of Microsoft it was the same t ensure there were no questions about it.
We could ask the same question of companies like [Google’s] Adometry that have been acquired by large players. The main job of these companies that have been acquired is to remain independent, and educate [the wider industry] so we can drive as much value as possible.
EW: Does Facebook harbour ambitions to join the dots and build an end-to-end stack same as Google has with DoubleClick?
FP: There is an ad tech ecosystem being built within Facebook, and there is no motive to hide it, and as far as programmatic is concerned we are working on several options [Facebook is rumoured to be building its own DSP]. But I cannot comment about the assumptions here today. I will be happy to talk about it here today.